Govs back down on judiciary independence as lawyers protest nationwide

Ogunsakin Mustapha
8 Min Read

An end appears in sight to the three week industrial action of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria(JUSUN) which has paralysed the nations judiciary as the Nigerian Governors’ Forum(NGF) backs down and promised to implement financial autonomy for state legislative and judiciary institutions by May 2021.

Chairman of the NGF, Dr Kayode Fayemi gave the assurance after a meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari at the State house, Abuja.

Fayemi maintained that the Governors forum had never opposed the issue of financial autonomy and that the governors, the speakers, and judges are all working in the same direction.

He further disclosed that upon emerging from a meeting with the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and House of Representatives today, an agreement has been reached, thus reiterating that Nigerians can expect implementation of the agreement no later than May.

Fayemi’s statement came on the heels of a statement by the Senate on Monday putting pressure on the governors to do the needful. Lawyers under the auspices of the Nigerian Bar Association had in the morning stormed the National Assembly but they were stopped at the gate.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary,Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi in a chat with journalists said that it is laughable to be grappling with judicial autonomy at this stage of the nation’s development.

“The National Assembly has been making laws that would guarantee full autonomy to the judiciary at the Federal level. The National Assembly does not make laws for the states; such power resides in the state Houses of Assembly;

“Judiciary at the Federal Capital Territory is independent because we have done what we are supposed to do. What is next is for the State Houses of Assembly to do what they are supposed to do;

“As a principle, as a policy, members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, have tried not to call on those who are protesting to stop such protests.

“We do not want protests but definitely, we would rather talk more to State Governors, Houses of Assembly and other stakeholders to do the needful in the overriding public interest.

“We cannot continue to call on the judiciary to give peace a chance when we know the conditions under which they work cannot guarantee a passionate and enhanced delivery of justice.

“We are talking about judicial reforms; we are talking about the need for justice sector reforms. This is central and crucial to the independence of the judiciary in this country. We must not be left behind by the rest of the civilized world.

“Nobody stands to lose anything by granting independence to judiciary at the state level since it has been done at the national level.The fact that workers and staff of federal judiciary are joining the protest is only in solidarity with their colleagues at the state levels.

“It is a union matter and we do not have a control over it. We are hereby calling on the State Governors to do the needful because the independence of the judiciary is non- negotiable”.

The NBA Ikeja Branch  also on Monday complied with the directive of the national leadership of the association as they marched to Alausa, the seat of Lagos State government to deliver a letter to governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in protest of the non- implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary as enshrined in the constitution.

 Led by the Chairman, Bartholomew  Aguegbodo, the lawyers took off from Ikeja Bar Centre and matched through Oba Akinjobi way, Oba Akran Avenue into Obafemi Awolowo Way and marched on  Alausa secretariat to present their letter of demand to the governor.

They had a brief stop at Allen/Obafemi Awolowo roundabout where the Ikeja NBA Chairman, Aguegbodo took minutes, to educate the public that their action was to ensure a better  judiciary for the people of the state.

By the time the protesting lawyers  got to Alausa Secretariat, the gate of the Government House was already shut against them by security officials who barricaded the road and prevented them from accessing  the Governor’s office.

There was about one-hour heated arguments between the NBA Ikeja leadership and three different Directors from the governor’s office who came at different time to convince the Ikeja NBA to hand over its letter to them for the attention of the governor.

But the lawyers stood their ground that they will only deliver the letter of the Bar to the Governor directly or an officer in his office. They were later prevailed upon to send their representatives to go into the government house to drop the letter.

A four-man team, includin, Aguegbodo, two former chairmen, Monday Ubani and Adesina Ogunlana and  Chibuzor Agwocha, were later allowed to proceed inside to deliver their letter  of demands for financial autonomy for the judiciary in the state.

Upon their return, Agugbodo told journalists that the letter stating their demands was received and acknowledged by one Deji, the officer in-charge of administrative mails in the governor’s office. The NBA Ikeja chairman described their protest to the governor’s office as “a re-sounding success”.

“We would now wait and see if the Governor of Lagos State would adhere to the demand of JUSUN. If they don’t, on next Monday, we shall proceed again on another peaceful protest.”

 A video recorded by a member of the  Ota Bar revealed that on arrival at  the Ogun State Government House Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, the vehicles were stopped outside the gate by security men who allegedly prevented the lawyers from gaining entrance into the Government house, it was however learnt that the refusal was due to the use of a commercial bus.

Members of the Bar however, told newsmen, that after a period of time, and following interventions and explanations from the Bar leadership,  the lawyers were eventually allowed access into the Government house by the security operatives

It was gathered that the initial denial of access was due to the fact that they had come in a commercial bus and so, commercial buses could not be allowed in.

Ultimately, the Ota NBA lawyers were  admitted into the Ogun state government house  by the security.

Similar visits and protests were also carried out by lawyers in Benin, Edo State, Asaba, Delta State, Calabar, Cross Rivers State, Ibadan, Oyo State, Makurdi, Benue State, Jalingo Taraba State,

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